Saturday, March 17, 2007

March Matchups: Brendan Shanahan vs. Owen Nolan

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we match up two NHL players whose names fit perfectly on the marquee...

Brendan Shanahan vs. Owen Nolan

Brendan Shanahan (featured above crushing a Devil) has had an enormous impact both on and off the ice for the N.H.L. He was drafted second overall in the first round of the 1987 N.H.L. Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils, behind Pierre Turgeon. Shanny, as many call him, is the son of Irish immigrants and was expected to do big things in the N.H.L. after playing juniors with the London Knights of the O.H.L. His first few seasons with the Devs he improved his offensive skills each year before being signed as a restricted free agent by the St. Louis Blues. The Blues would have to give up compensation for grabbing Shanny. At first, they offered Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour, but the Devs wanted Scott Stevens. New Jersey got what they wanted, in Stevens they would receive a bruising d-man who could put up great numbers. Stevens changed his game quite a bit when he arrived in New Jersey, tending to play more of a defensive game and although he dished out some of the biggest checks ever, he was not likely to be seen chasing around opposing players looking for a fight.

Shanny spent four tremendous years in St. Louis before GM Mike Keenan dealt Shanny to Hartford for prodigious d-man, Chris Pronger. The Blues appeared to have gotten themselves a cornerstone for future Cup runs. Unfortunately, Pronger would not win a Cup in St. Louis, due largely to the mismanagement of St. Louis, by guys like Keenan. "Iron" Mike even ticked off Wayne Gretzky enough during the playoffs that Gretz decided to sign with the New York Rangers after a couple of months in St. Louis.

Shanahan's stay in Hartford was brief. He would be dealt to the Detroit Red Wings along with Bryan Glynn for Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey, and a first round pick. Shanahan would win three Stanley Cups in the Motor City; 1997, 1998, and 2002. He also picked up a Gold Medal for Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake. Shanahan signed with the Rangers this past summer and netted his first two goals as a Blueshirt on Opening Night. Oh yeah, they also happened to be his 599th and 600th of his career. Shanny is a member of the unique "Quad Gold Club," having won a Stanley Cup, Canada Cup, Gold Medal, and a World Championship. No doubt he goes straight to the Hall of Fame.

Shanny also brought together a number of current and former players before and during the lockout of 2004-05 to come up with ways to make the game better, re: more marketable. Shanahan comes across as a very bright guy and in my mind I could see Shanny someday holding a top executive job for the league.

Owen Nolan is the only man ever to play in the N.H.L. that was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was drafted number one in the 1990 N.H.L. Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, who had a penchant in those days for stellar drafting. Nolan missed out on the success of the Nordiques when they moved to Colorado. He got traded to San Jose for offensive-minded defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who at that time was one of the final pieces of the championship puzzle for the Colorado Avalanche.

Nolan has bounced around a bit having played for Toronto, and now Phoenix after taking off the entire 2005-06 season to heal from nagging injuries. He's a prototypical power forward who can score goals and plays with an edge. He also won a Gold Medal with Canada at the 2002 Olympics. Nolan has scored 365 goals and has picked up over 1,600 penalty minutes. I always wanted to see Nolan play for the Rangers, his grit, determination, and the fact that he was a real team player were things that have sorely lacked in the Rangers' locker room over the years.

Nolan and Shanahan play a similar game, although I think Shanny expends his energy better. Shanny is still going strong at 38. Injuries have slowed down Nolan, so the winner of this contest is....Brendan Shanahan!

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